The Apo-1/Fas (CD95) antigen is known to be involved in the process of T cell-mediated target cell killing and has recently been shown to be expressed on myeloma cell lines and native malignant plasma cells. Several cytokines have been reported to interfere with spontaneous and even Apo-1/Fas-induced apoptosis, but no attempt has been made yet to investigate these interactions and the possible underlying mechanisms in myeloma cells. Since in myeloma patients Interferon (IFN)-alpha2 displays a profound therapeutic effect in vivo, which is usually attributed to its growth inhibitory and/or immunomodulatory capacity, we set out to study the potential interference of IFN-alpha2 with Apo-1/Fas-induced apoptosis. Contrary to expectations, IFN-alpha2 reduced the degree of apoptosis caused by the treatment of five Apo-1/Fas-sensitive myeloma cell lines with a Fas monoclonal antibody (mAb). Simultaneous application of IFN-alpha2 and Fas mAb was superior to the prolonged (i.e. >8 h) preincubation with the cytokine as far as inhibition of Apo-1/Fas-induced apoptosis was concerned. This effect of IFN-alpha2 was neither explained by a down-regulation of the Apo-1/Fas receptor nor caused by modulation of the expression levels of c-myc, bcl-2-, bcl-xL, bax- or p53 genes. IFN-alpha2 did not alter the Apo-1/Fas-induced activity of Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) 1 and did not inhibit the Apo-1/Fas-mediated proteolytic cleavage of ADP-ribosyltransferase, a substrate of Interleukin-beta1 converting enzyme (ICE) and homologues. However, activation of protein kinase C (PKC) by phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) mimicked the effects of IFN-alpha2. Furthermore, the bis-indolylmaleimide GF 109203X, a specific inhibitor of PKC, inhibited the effect of PMA as well as that of IFN-alpha2 on Apo-1/Fas-induced apoptosis. These results point to a PKC-dependent mechanism of transient interaction between the intracellular signaling along the IFN-alpha2 and the Apo-1/Fas pathway (downstream of MAPK signaling as well as of ICE homologues), which becomes exhausted by prolonged stimulation with the cytokine. According to our data IFN-alpha2, applied continuously and in high doses resembling the therapeutic situation in vivo, inhibits myeloma growth. However, based on the observed inhibitory effect of IFN-alpha2 on Apo-1/Fas-induced apoptosis, a partial inhibition of the natural immune surveillance on myeloma cells by endogenous IFN-alpha2 present in the bone marrow microenvironment of this malignancy should be investigated.